Single Experiences: Cost-Benefit Analysis from a Single Gay Mormon

[Note: This is one of a series of posts about being single in the Mormon church.  Here's a link to the guest post invitation  Here's a link to the archive for this series.]

I’m a single gay Mormon male. (I’m also a ginger; my friend keeps telling me I need to also become black or Jewish or something, just to add to my list of ridiculous, apparently contradictory labels.) I’ll be honest, singleness is working out pretty okay for me right now: I have a good group of friends in my YSA ward, even if I have to wear masks sometimes; I’m intellectually busy with school; I can retreat to my own spaces when I’ve had enough dealing-with-people for right now. However, I’m not sure I want to stay single in the long run, and so there’s a couple of options I’ve thought about pursuing.

So, let’s do a sort of emotional/spiritual cost-benefit analysis here. For each of these options, let’s explore the needs they satisfy and the needs they leave unsatisfied. (NB: I’m using the word “needs” here in a sense that is basically interchangeable with, say, “desires,” “wants,” or even “goods” in the abstract philosophical sense.)

Option 1: Homosexual relationships

The first option is to date men. It’s sort of the natural, atavistic way to go; I’m satisfying, in a pretty direct way, the powerful need I have for male intimacy. However, this intimacy probably won’t extend to religion (unless I find another gay Mormon, I guess). How am I going to explain the whole Mormon thing to my new boyfriend? Further, how am I going to explain the whole new boyfriend thing to my Mormon self? This path runs directly counter to the (current) teachings and expectations of the church, to which I have subscribed religiously for the past twenty-x years.

There’s some external motivation going on here too. I may have a hard time explaining the whole new boyfriend thing to not only my Mormon self, but also my Mormon community. In particular, there’s going to be some family drama if I go down this path. On the continuum of reactions between “buying a rainbow shirt and joining PFLAG” and “revising the will, lighting a candle next to a picture on the mantel, and never speaking the name of the Lost One,” my mother’s are closer to the latter end than the former. She’s had to significantly revise her expectations for how my life would go; I think she’s had these dreams of little ginger grand-babies, and now that’s pretty well up in the air. She often tells me, clinging to this sentiment like a life jacket, how proud she is that I’ve never acted on “those temptations.” I don’t even  want to speculate on what would happen to our relationship if I started walking out with another man; it’d be a second shattering of the expectations she’s painstakingly assembled from the bits and pieces of her old ones.

Option 2: Heterosexual relationships

Okay, so, now let’s look at the pros and cons of a heterosexual relationship. This may be the deeply-ingrained heteronormative paradigm speaking, but you know, this choice has a lot of things to recommend it. Of course it would make my mom happy; she can have her little ginger grandbabies after all. It’s also got the patina of tradition, like the wood of the pews in the Tabernacle, worn beautiful by generations of hands. It’s deeply continuous with the teachings of Mormonism, in more ways than you notice until you start thinking real hard about it. It’s the nucleus of the cells that comprise the body of Christ. It’s woven into the organizational fabric of the church. We even invest it with eternal, salvific significance. And beyond all this it’s been what I’ve always pictured as my future: wife, sealing, 2.3 children, house, faithful dog, white picket fence. I think I’d make a great father, and I want to have kids so I can do cool stuff with them. So, I mean, there’s a lot of needs that legitimately get satisfied in this scenario; I’m true to my Mormon self, I’m keeping family expectations intact, and it’s something I’ve always wanted.

But! (Of course there is a “but.”) As you might imagine, the fact that I’m gay complicates the whole dating thing juuust a little bit. I recently ended a nearly-year-long relationship with a girl with whom I thought it was going pretty well because, as it turns out, she is kinda homophobic. (Trust me, I’ll not be repeating the mistake of not telling potential girlfriends up front.) Even if I find a tolerant enough girl, there’s still issues: I was talking to an extremely tolerant friend of mine who said basically, as a straight woman, she’d find it hard to be in a relationship with a man who wasn’t attracted to her in that way. I need relationships to be on level terms. I don’t feel right about even the possibility of afflicting a woman with feelings of inadequacy, mistrust, and/or guilt that could potentially last for as long as my marriage does.

And there’s another thing: If I get married to a woman, I need it to last. I don’t want to subject my hypothetical wife and children to the painful process of divorce. So while the accounts of, say, Josh Weed and Ty Mansfield are quite heartening, the accounts of a large number of other people for whom marriage has not been a sustainable option make me nervous.  And here’s one more thing: I don’t know if this sort of arrangement will satisfy my sexual needs. It’s entirely possible that I’m more bisexual than I think, but because I’m Mormon and have certain rather strict beliefs about extramarital sex, I have no real idea whether I’d be able to sustain a sexual relationship with a woman.

Option 3: Celibacy

Of course, there is a third way, which is to stay single and celibate forever. Here again, I’m fulfilling my need to stay in the lines drawn by the church, because this is the church-approved model for gay people right now. There’s something sort of noble about this third way. It’s like jumping on a grenade, or something. I’ll not only save myself from doing things that we’re extremely sure (based on the threadbare warrant of a few questionably-translated words of Paul, and none at all of Jesus, Mormon et al., or the Lord speaking through Joseph Smith, but don’t get me started) are Morally Bad, but I’ll also save some poor girl from having to be my eternal gay-beard. Maybe I won’t have the 2.3 children, and maybe the house with the white picket fence is a little extravagant for one (can I put up a white picket fence in a modest apartment?), but I don’t see why I can’t have the faithful dog to greet me happily when I come home and satisfy my need for emotional connection with another living thing. And hey, I’ll have the knowledge that I’m living exactly the way my church officially prescribes to keep me warm at night. What I’m getting at, in the sarcastic way I tend to use to avoid directly confronting things that are emotionally painful, is that in the long run, this third way sucks.

This third way does, I’ll admit, fulfill my spiritual need to stay connected to my faith community, and my emotional need to stay connected to my family. However, it fails miserably on every other count. I am not a monk. I have other needs than these, and I need to listen to those too.

Now the real problem is, there’s no way around making this decision. If I pursue a relationship, I have to decide between one or the other, and if I choose not to decide, I still have made a choice (thanks, Neil Peart!). And down any one of the three paths lies a complicated tangle of fulfilled and unfulfilled needs that are all very real and very pressing.


[Previous post in this series: Single Experiences: I Just Want to Date Myself]